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How to Clean Pewter — Pro Reveals the Easy Secret + the Pricey Product You Should Skip

Experts share the easy cleaning and maintenance how-tos that keep it looking pretty for years to come

Whether you have pewter home accents, serveware or jewelry passed down from family members or thrifted from the antique store, the pieces are true works of art with their shiny metallic appearance and ornate designs. If you’ve ever wondered how to properly clean your prized pewter and preserve the pieces for years to come, you’ve come to the right place! Here, experts share the easy steps for cleaning pewter, how often you should clean it and what you can do to maintain its beauty. Read on for the easy how-tos.

What is pewter?

How to clean pewter: Pewter cups and a pitcher on a table

According to The Pewter Society, pewter is an alloy composed primarily of tin with varying quantities of hardening agents such as antimony, bismuth and copper. Its shiny, silvery finish makes it a popular choice for flatware, serveware, home accents and even jewelry, and the metal develops a beautiful, dark patina over time on its own. Old pewter has patinas ranging in hue from mellow silver to charcoal gray, which gives the pieces a more “antique” appearance that’s favored by many collectors. Pewter can have different finishes ranging from polished (shiny) to satin (matte) to oxidized (heavily patinaed).

How to clean pewter

While pewter tends to be a lower-maintenance metal, your pewter items — no matter their finish — will benefit from being cleaned periodically to remove dust, dirt or food particles. “When it comes to cleaning pewter, I have found it’s best to keep things simple to avoid damaging your piece with too-strong cleaning agents,” says Dustin Lemick, CEO of BriteCo Jewelry Insurance. His favorite DIY cleaner is a combination of warm water and dish soap. To do: Fill a bowl or basin with warm to hot water and a few squeezes of dish soap, then dip your pewter item in the solution and use a microfiber cloth to gently scrub it down and remove dust, dirt or food particles; rinse well and dry with a soft dry cloth.  

How to remove oxidation from pewter

How to clean pewter: Pewter teapot and pitcher showing some oxidation on a shelf next to blue wine goblets and glasses

If your pewter is more oxidized than you’d like, you can remove excess discoloration and shine up your piece with a quick buffing. According to The Pewter Society, a light oxide can often be removed with a hard rub and repeated application of a metal (not silver) polish. To do: After cleaning the pewter using the above steps, apply a metal polish, like Brasso Metal Polish (Buy from Amazon, $13.89), all over the item, then use microfiber cloth and firm pressure to buff the polish onto the piece. Buff again with a clean cloth and voila! Repeat as needed until a desired, less-oxidized look is achieved.  

If you notice that buffing your pewter piece with metal polish is not removing the oxidation as well as you’d like, The Pewter Society suggests buffing the piece with a fine grade of 600 grade wet and dry emery paper. One to try: MAXMAN Sandpaper 600 Grit Wet Dry Sanding Sheets (Buy from Amazon, $10.69). They note that a coarser grade emery paper may be tried to start, working up to finer grades as you go. Also, dark, hard-metal items will be slow to respond to this treatment, and several applications may be needed.

To see the emery paper technique in action, check out this YouTube video below from @matthewmcewen1675

How to keep pewter looking its best

Keeping your prized pewter pieces pristine is as easy as giving them a regular dusting and cleaning them about once yearly or more often as needed. Also smart: Old and valuable pieces benefit from an application of a good quality neutral wax polish to enhance appearance and protect from further oxidation.

Pewterer Jon Gibson of Gibson Pewter Shop shares in a YouTube video that his favorite polish for pewter is Simichrome Polish (Buy from Amazon, $29.94). To use it, he suggests in the video to dip a cotton ball into the polish and rub it on the piece back and forth in the same direction, working around the circumference of the piece. Then use a soft cloth to rub the piece in the same back and forth motion as you did before to wipe away excess polish. The polish leaves your piece with a beautiful lasting shine.

To see Gibson’s polishing technique in action, check out his video below from his YouTube channel @GibsonPewter.

Also smart: Pewter is notoriously sensitivite to heat and sunlight, notes Lemick. “Because of this, it’s important to keep pewter protected from direct sunlight and extreme heat to prevent discoloration and warping of the material,” he says.

For more metal cleaning tips, check out these stories:

The Best Way To Clean a Stainless Steel Sink? Plain Old Flour, Says Cleaning Pro

How To Clean Sterling Silver Jewelry in Minutes

Jewelry Dips Can Damage Rings, Cautions Pro — The Better Way to Clean Them

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